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We caught up with John R. Eslich, owner and president of Factory of Terror, to reflect on what it takes to operate the massive production.
"We have poured so much blood, sweat, and tears into what the Factory of Terror has become today. The most gratifying part of owning a Haunted Attraction is seeing customers create unforgettable memories with their friends. I'm very proud of our entire crew, from actors to ticketing staff, to designers…for working together and creating such an amazing production. It truly is a reflection of a strong team of many talented individuals."
How much staff does it take to operate the World’s Longest Haunted House?
"Each night, it takes approximately 130 people to operate the World’s Longest Haunted House. This includes fire and police support as well as supervisors, actors, make-up artists, box office employees, custodial, and support staff. Most of our employees are seasonal but we maintain 6-10 full time staff year-round. Contrary to popular belief, the work never stops."
How do you prepare such a large group of actors each night?
"The key to having all of our actors in full character and ready to scare in a short amount of time is good planning and great execution. Actors start arriving at the factory for makeup and costuming around 4:00pm, roughly three hours before the show starts. By 6:00pm most of the staff is on-site and getting ready for the night. A team member checks them in and distributes their costumes. We do not use masks; therefore, all actors must report to the makeup department. Then, one of 8-10 special FX artists begin applying makeup and prosthetics to transform ordinary people into extraordinary characters. Our team works together to produce the most horrifying and realistic characters in order to give our guests the best possible experience."
How important is branding and marketing to your success?
"Branding is very important to us and a strong marketing campaign is critical in delivering the details of our product to the consumer. Each year we create original videos and promotional photos by using a mix of in-house, local, and well-known photographers and videographers. Months of preparation are necessary before releasing our marketing content.
Alyssa Schipani, owner of DesignByAly.com shot all the photos in this article and recently wrapped up another professional photo shoot for our 2016 season. These images, combined with our original logos, create brand awareness. The pre-season marketing efforts ultimately sets the mood, long before guests ever purchase a ticket. It's critical to us that we stay ahead of the game on marketing in our industry. Not only are we creating our own unique brand, we offer various ways for patrons to connect with us. They can save money on tickets by utilizing social media, mailing lists, text blasts, and radio contests. You can even find us in the local Canton visitor travel guides. Guests can sign up on our website FOTohio.com to receive special offers via text and email."
Since there is so much space, do you offer any other events or off-season events?
"Five years ago, we made a commitment to open on every Friday the 13th –no matter what month it occurred. Some months were very difficult, like winter months with six inches of snow and 10 degree temperatures. We were the first haunted house in Ohio to attempt these “out of season events”. Today, other haunts in Ohio are starting to follow this tradition and open their doors in the off-season. If you are considering it, be advised that it is definitely more difficult than regular season operations, so do your homework."
Interesting Off-Season Facts:
*In 2013 and again in 2015, The Factory of Terror opened and closed the season on a Friday the 13th.
*Our newest tradition is opening for St. Patrick’s Day. Who doesn’t like St. Patrick’s Day? Who doesn’t like haunting? The Factory’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration with be on March 12 of this year which will be our 2nd time hosting the event.
*In September 2015, we established Escape Canton, which features six high tech escape rooms. These rooms are fully interactive and incorporate physical games. Essentially, a group of willing participants are locked in a themed room with the ultimate goal/challenge of escaping and completing the mission. The group must work together and use elements around them to find clues and solve puzzles in order to escape the room within a certain time limit. Our escape rooms are tons fun and provide excellent team building activities with riddles and mental challenges along the way! We have had a lot of local corporations and businesses rent out the rooms for meetings, seminars, and team building events.
*Four of our escape rooms are located inside the factory and open year-round. The other two are mobile units than can be transported to any location including local fairs and events. You can find out more about our escape rooms at EscapeCanton.com.
What do you think was your biggest mistake when getting into the haunt business?
I think one of my biggest mistakes when starting out was not networking with other haunters and attending trade shows. After I attended the HAuNTcon show in 2007, I think I have only missed 2 out of next 36 when counting HAuNTcon, MHC, TransWorld, and IAAPA. I have been to every Legendary Haunt Tour and look forward to continuing to attend all these tradeshows. I have found that the networking and friendships acquired at these shows is invaluable.
This year, The Factory of Terror will be the host location for the 1st Annual Haunters Weekend. This is an educational and interactive event developed by Dan Hower, Alyssa Schipani, and myself. I'm really excited about it. Haunters Weekend will be the first educational event to take place inside a PROFESSIONAL HAUNTED ATTRACTION where you will build ACTUAL SETS! –That’s right, everything will take place inside the haunted attraction. The primary focus of Haunters Weekend is hands-on workshops and demonstrations, but it will also offer networking, social activities, and even inspirational tours. Even better, attendees will learn techniques and trade secrets directly from elite vendors and designers in the haunt industry. Haunters Weekend was created to give haunters the opportunity to "learn by doing" and to be able to obtain skills that aren't always possible in a conference room environment.
Haunters are going to have a blast working with power tools, pneumatics, pyrotechnics, paint sprayers, stilts, sound systems, prop controllers and more. For example, when you register for a lighting design class, you will walk in a real set with no lights and by the end of the class, attendees will have learned what lights to use, what controllers to use, and most importantly, how to install all of these things hands-on. When the class is complete, the set will be fully lit. That is how each class is designed. Of course, there will also be a lights-on tour of Factory of Terror exclusively for registered attendees. The three day event will start on Friday, May 13th and continue on May 14, and 15, 2016. There are limited spots available for select classes. For more information or to register, go to HauntersWeekend.com.